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The political choice to keep politics out of the classroom. There is a municipality in northeastern Brazil called Sobral, and schools there have the best learning outcomes in all of Brazil. Jaime Saavedra of the World Bank recounts his conversation with Sobral’s current mayor (and former secretary of education). “Mayor Gomes told me that ‘the most important political decision we took, was to keep politics out of education decisions.’ That statement is a deal breaker regarding education reform. The shift in the system implied that principals, teachers and pedagogical coordinators were recruited meritocratically, and never because of connections or through political favors.” One study of Sobral’s experience (in Portuguese) shows that one-third of school principals were replaced with the shift to a meritocratic selection process.
You don’t have to choose between needs-based and merit-based scholarships! In Colombia, providing merit-based scholarships to low-income students dramatically increased enrollment to the point that it closed the socio-economic status gap for high-achieving college students. Most of the increased enrollment was at high-quality private colleges, which saw a nearly 50% increase in their socioeconomic diversity. (Long-term impacts of merit- vs. needs-based scholarships for primary school students in Cambodia showed that merit- delivered better learning. This Colombia work shows how to put them together.)
Intergenerational immobility. It’s not surprising that children whose parents think boys are better than girls at math are more likely to have those beliefs themselves. But as Eble and Hu write in a blog post about their work in China, girls in classes where more of their peers have parents with those beliefs are even more likely to believe it. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: In those classes, girls perform worse in math! But having a female teacher counteracts those beliefs and improves girls’ performance. (You may have encountered one or more of Eble and Hu’s papers on this: this post brings them all together.)
Is your child well cared for? You want to evaluate the quality of childcare centers, but you don’t know which instrument to use. Researchers adapted and compared the performance of four standard tools in 400+ child care centers in Ecuador. Besides learning that childcare centers in Ecuador have lots of room to improve, all of the instruments involve directly observing caregiver-child interactions, which makes them both expensive and complex to implement. The CLASS instrument for toddlers seems to fare best in terms of quality, whereas the Child Care Infant-Toddler Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment was quickest and simplest, albeit with technical drawbacks. But, as the authors say, “this still leaves unanswered the question of how to conduct frequent monitoring in low-resource settings.” In a blog post, the authors highlight efforts in Argentina and Uruguay to develop scalable instruments.
There is no free lunch in teacher allocation! While incentives to get teachers into low-performing schools or rural areas can be effective, they come at a cost. Recruiting high-performing teachers to low-performing schools in one U.S. state significantly decreased student test scores in other schools. (After all, the teachers didn’t appear from nowhere!) Many countries have hardship allowances to get teachers to rural schools (here’s evidence from the Gambia), and as we count the benefits, it’s important to remember the costs as well.